Tuesday, November 23, 2004
What to bring: If possible just bring one lightweight carry-on piece of luggage. If you do, it really simplifies things for check in and baggage claim. Also youíll find that you can by most things in S.E. Asia for a fraction of the price youíd pay at home. So keep that in mind as you look at this list. If you donít already have it, consider buying it when you get here. Besides, most of the stuff youíd buy in Wal-Mart is made over here anyway, just cut out the middleman and save some dough.
1) basic clothes- shorts and t-shirts are all youíll need 99% of the time.
2) light weight long sleeve shirt and pants- if you want to visit any mosques or temples you are sometimes required to cover yourself.
3) sport sandals- like Teva etcÖ
4) toiletries- Your basic toiletries but donít worry too much about 1st aid, shampoo, tooth paste etc. You can get that here.
5) flip flops- if youíre gonna stay in any hostels or guest houses youíre most likely to share showers. I donít know about you but the prospect of a case of (Tinea sp.) ainít that appealing to me. By that way, thatís Atheletes foot. I just wanted to show off my biological knowledge.
6) umbrella- this is very handy.. a small fold up kind works best
7) rain jacket- also very handyÖ get a very light weight breatheable or a rain poncho. You rarely need these but when you do itís usually a downpour and youíll be glad you had it
8) book- chances are that youíll spend time at a bus terminal, airport etc. A good book comes in handy and relieves the frustration from late buses or trains. I also have quite a few you can borrow. Just donít be bringiní books entitled Why Islam is Stupid or something like that.
9) Nalgene water bottle- they come in handy. The water bottles here are leaky.
10) coffee press- if youíre a coffee drinker bring your own press. Real coffee is hard to find in rural places. Itís mostly instant Nescafe. In the cities you can find coffee shops like Starbucks etc..
11) pillow case and sheet or sleeping bag liner- If you spend any time in the grungy backpacker hostels youíll want something to lay your nogginí on. The pillows and sheets in the cheapest places can be kinda questionable.
12) ALWAYS carry a roll of toilet paper with you! (see section on toilets) The toilets here rarely have it, they have a water hose for squirting yourself off. Besides, wiping your bum what the left hand is for right? Youíll need it if you indulge in some of the spicy stuff and suddenly realize that it wasnít such a good idea to ask for extra chili padi. It also helps to carry it in a plastic bag in case it rains. Soggy toilet paper is no fun. Does it sound like I write this from experience?
13) if you plan to play ultimate frisbee with us (we play every Monday night)- youíll need running shoes
Attitude- One of the most important things you can do is to be patient and slow yourself down. When you get here youíll realize that things work differently and sometimes not at all. They ainít always as efficient as weíd like them to be. Buses, trains, and even service in restaurants can be frustrating if you let it. Businesses here ainít customer oriented. They donít work for tips and ëthe customer is always rightí is not their philosophy. (travel tip: if youíre thirsty order two drinks. They donít come back and ask you how youíre momma is doing or if youíre enjoying your meal or none of that nonsense). Some places even cook dishes one at a time, so an order for several people can take a while. Buses frequently break down and taxis ëget lostí and drive you around the city. Itís all part of the adventure. It personally took me several weeks to break out my ëwestern modeí, the feeling that I needed to be constantly busy and things needed to meet my schedule. I wasnít even aware of my own impatience. I say this because a friend, who I thought was a seasoned traveler, just visited. He wanted to be constantly on the go. When taxis were slow or buses were late he got upset and frustrated. I wanted him to slow down and enjoy the adventure. He wanted to cram in as much as possible. The Western attitude ainít too purdy when you see a fat, sweaty white guy screaminí and holleriní at the locals because his triple egg omelette didnít have gouda cheese and portabello mushrooms like he gets at his favorite cafÈ back home! Youíll notice the locals never seem to get frustrated. Actually, they do. But itís not culturally acceptable to show it in public. I really like the slower pace and the attitude here, but it does take some adjustment time to get used to. Besides, thatís why you came here ainít it? If you wanted things to be ëlike they are back homeí then you might as well go to the nearest Super Walmart and have yourself a Samís cola and some ridged potato chips. I doubt any of my good friends would ever exhibit that kinda behavior, but I point it out for your entertainment pleasure. Keep a keen eye and youíll see at least one of those blokes at every bus depot and airport.
Cultural Sensitivity- since you are a foreigner you will be easily forgiven if you accidentally step on some toes. But if you blatantly or purposefully do dumb stuff the consequences could be a serious ass whoopiní!
Donít worry- I routinely break these rules, but it is good to be aware of them.
1) pointing- it is considered crude to point with the index finger. Use the thumb or the whole hand.
2) feet- itís considered rude to show the soles of your feet. Keep your feet on the ground or, if you cross your legs try and point the feet to the floor.
3) dress- youíll see lots of European women wearing spaghetti straps etc. I think itís rude. The local guys will love it though and youíll figure that out pretty quickly. The society is pretty liberal but itís disrespectful to be that blatant in flaunting your equipment. Muslim women wear a whole range of outfits from the shawl covering the head to skirts. Try to wear something that covers the shoulders.
4) religion and politics- avoid discussing these topics with strangers. Some people feel pretty strongly about the stuff.
5) left hand- try to eat with your right hand only. The left hand is considered unclean. You thought I was joking about the toilet stuff didnít you? Also, make sure to shake hands with the right hand. And if handing something to someone use your right hand and touch your right forearm with your left hand. I will demonstrate when you arrive.
1) The King- NEVER say anything bad about the king.
2) Buddhism- NEVER say anything bad about Buddhism
3) Monks- try not to touch a monk. They have to go through an arduous cleansing ceremony if theyíre touched.
4) losing your temper- never lose your temper with a Thai. They are very peaceful and are disgraced if yelled at. They will probably hold their anger in, but if itís released it could be vicious.
5) same as Malaysia- the general rules for Malaysia also apply here regarding dressing modestly, religion, politics, pointing and being mindful of your feet.
14) Toilets- yep, this topic is important enough to have itís own section. Now lemme start by saying that most toilets here are simply porcelain holes in a wet floor. It sounds gross and it is. Most of them smell like fermented poop. As I mentioned before, the Asian mode of cleaning involves a water hose. As a result theyíre perpetually wet and smelly. For boys itís ainít that big a deal. For girls it can be kinda scary. For anyone that has gotten a bout of spice or bacterial induced ëstomach upsetí it can be quite upsetting. I will leave it to your imagination. The nicer upscale restaurants will have western style toilets and sometimes theyíre even clean enough for you to sit on! Lemme tell ya, you ainít lived until you have pooed in a squatter in the third world during a downpour while watching mosquito larva squiggle about in the vat of water, intended for cleaning your arse, next to you.
Food- the food in S.E. Asia is unbelievable. Itís one of the main reasons for traveling to the region. Itís some of the tastiest and spiciest youíll ever have. Itís seemingly infinite. There are whole books dedicated to the subject. Just open up and give things a try. The local food-stalls and roadside food is the best and cheapest. Just exercise common sense. If it looks like the leftover turkey and dressiní you discover in your fridge in April then donít eat it.
vegetarianism- It ainít hard to find vegetarian food if you know where to look. But be aware that a lot of dishes are cooked with fish stock or chicken stock. Also be aware that youíll be missing out on some of the best food offered. The biggest difficulty is the communication barrier. Sometimes they donít understand and sometimes they donít consider fish, shrimp etc. as meat. Only red meat is meat to a lot of people. So if you ask for ëno meatí it may come with shrimp or fish. Also fish products turn up in the weirdest places, you may not suspect it to be there. Especially the soy sauce, it often has fish stock. If you order vegetarian and they ask ëis egg OK?í then you know they understand. Theyíll usually only ask that if they comprehend that you only eat vegetables.
In Thailand say, ëkin jehí which means vegetarian.
In Malaysia most people understand English, but saying ësayur onlyí or ësayur-sayuraní will work.
You may have to compliment that with ëno chicken, no pork, no beef, no fishí in Malaysia.
In Thailand say ëmai gai, mai muu, mai plaaí
Modes of eating: you are likely to have a range of implements for shoveling food into your jawls. Chopsticks and forks and spoons are routinely offered, but the most common way to eat is with the hands (remember to use the right hand only- the left is reserved for your butt!). Just scoop it up and plop it into your gullet. Yes, there is a method. You roll the rice up into a neat ball. It takes a while and if youíre good you can eat a meal with no food getting above the first joint of your fingers! Good luck! I still havenít mastered it. But just donít freak out if you see grown people playing with their food and rolling it around in their hands.
1) shots- you should probably at least get hepatitis shots. The first time I came I didnít get any at all. Consult the CDC website (www.cdc.gov- I think?) for information. They tend to err on the side of caution. I doubt youíll be in malaria territory and Iíve heard the treatment is worse than the disease. It really is a personal decision and I can only give limited advice. Just go to the health department for the shots. Theyíre about 1/5 the price as a private doctor. The UGA travel clinic gives good advice but they are also VERY expensive. So what you do, is go there and get the scoop on what shots you need and then truck it over to the Health Department and give the list to the nurse. Youíll ge the same exact shot for about 1/10 the price. No joke!
2) drink bottled or filtered water only
3) try to drink at least 3 liters a day. If you donít youíll find yourself with a horrible dehydration headache.
4) make sure your food is cooked fresh. Iíve eaten at every roadside food stall I can find between Singapore and Bangkok with only minor troubles. Just make sure itís freshly cooked. If in doubt, donít eat it.
Places to see: I have copies of ëThe Lonely Planetí for Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. You can buy it ahead of time if you want to so some research but I would suggest researching the Internet and saving your $15. You can borrow mine when you get here. Iím assuming youíll want to have cultural and outdoor experiences without much touristy hassles. So thatís what Iíll focus on.
Kuala Lumpur- capital of Malaysia.
Highlights: twin towers (tallest in the world), Chinatown, Little India, National Museum, National Mosque and a whole bunch of other stuff.
Cameron Highlands- hill station
Highlights: 1000 ñ 1500 meters elevation with cool weather, tea plantations, birdís galore, jungle trekking, cloud forests.
Melaka- ancient port city
Highlights: Portugese settlement, Sino-Portugese architecture, antiques, ancient trading port.
Tioman Island- tropical island
Highlights: coral reef snorkelling, jungle trekking, highest diversity of herpetofauna in the South China Sea!, plants, birds etc. galore!
Tasek Bera- protected wetlands sanctuary
Highlights: Orang Asli tribal village, tigers, tapir, birds, snakes etc.
Frasiers Hill ñ hill station
Highlights: birds galore, cool weather, jungle trekking, peace and quiet
Bangkok- I have a love/hate relationship with Bangkok. Itís a huge dirty city. A lot of touts try to sell you everything under the sun. They can be very annoying. My advice is to go see it for a few days and then go and see the rest of Thailand. Thereís a saying that ìBangkok is a city next to Thailandî that is to say that to experience ërealí Thai culture get out of the city.
Highlights: Chatuchak weekend market, Temples galore, canals, any kind of food you want etc..
Krabi- so far my favorite town in Thailand. A little funky, reminds me of Athens in a way.
Highlights: offshore reef snorkeling, sea kayaking etc.
Khao Sok National Park- a beautiful national park in S. Thailand
Highlights: Hornbills, elephants, mouse deer, trekking, caving etc.
Ko Samet- a small national park island in E. Thailand. I have just spent a month living in Ban Phe Thailand. Ko Samet is just offshore. Itís REAL Thai culture, few foreigners and very SLOW pace of life.
Highlights: real Thai culture, slow pace, corals,
Thale Noi- wetlands bird sanctuary in S. Thailand
Highlights: birds galore, largest bloon of lotus and water lily in Thailand, fishing village, few tourists
Of course there are lots of other places. I have only mentioned the ones Iíve been to. I havenít mentioned Borneo or Northern Thailand like Chiang Mai, both of which I have heard are incredible. If you have questions just e-mail me.
Useful things to know
Malaysia- words are pronounced phonetically as you would read them with very few differences from English. Since Malaysia was a British colony most people speak good English.
one more= ësatu lagií probably the most important phrase you can learn after ëtoiletí and ëbeerí. Use this phrase to order another beer.
water = ìairî pronounced ayer
toilet = ìtandasî
mens = ìlelakiî
womens= ìwanitaî or ìperempuanî
caution = ìawasî
no smoking = ìdliarang merokokî
Thank You= ìterima kasihî
beer= ìcarlsbergî or ìtiger beerî
Thailand- Itís a different story here. Most folks only speak broken English. The country is mono-cultural compared to Malaysia so there hasnít been as much need to establish English as a form of communication,
greeting= ìSawadee Kaaî if youíre female
= ìSawadee Khapî if youíre male
water = ìnamî
toilet = ìhawng namî
Thank You= ìKhap Khun Khap (male)î and ìKhap Khun Kaa (female)î
beer= ìbiaî or ìChang biaî or ìsing biaî (Singha)
speaking of beer:
The beer here is a bit more potent than back home. It tends to be 6-8% alkeehol as opposed to the wussy 4% we get in the good ole U S of A. Enjoy! My favorite is a thick, rich black stout called Royal Danish Stout. At 8% alkeehol I can only handle about 2 or 3 at the most. Drink up and hold on to your knickers! Just make damn sure you drink plenty water before you snooze.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
A number of articles have appeared on Common Dreams recently under the general theme of: Donít flee the country because George Bush won. These are mostly tongue-in-cheek pieces about how hard it is to emigrate to Canada or revoke citizenship.... which is all undoubtedly true.
But while it may be difficult to revoke US citizenship and become a Canadian citizen, it is DAMN EASY to get a job abroad and thus escape the country! I highly recommend this option. Living abroad gives me a broader perspective on the follies of America and Americans. Take my word for it, it looks even uglier from over here. But it has been a very good experience to undermine whatever nationalistic tendencies I may have had.
So why not join me, and Kristin, and Matt, and Todd and thousands of others-- go ahead and flee the country. I know from experience that its no fun to live in Hickville, USA surrounded by rabid Christian Taliban. Americans are, as a rule, the most willfully ignorant people on the Earth. Never have those who have had so much, known so little. Sure, the media is corrupt and the Christian Taliban are great propagandists. But at heart, Americans want to believe the lies. They make them feel good. They like to imagine that they are part of a master race that is chosen by God and can do no wrong. They like the surrogate rush of watching their military annihilate scary brown infidels. They like their obscenely large SUVs. They like their gigantic houses. They like super-size fries.
Reality, by comparison, is so unpleasant. It doesnít do much for oneís ego to admit that you are a citizen of a monstrous, murderous, lying, assassinating, torturing, pillaging corporate evil empire. Much better to wave the flag and thank Jesus that we are the freest, richest, smartest (hah), most moral, most wonderfulest country in the whole wide world.
As with all those good-citizen Nazis of Germany, I fear its gonna take a whole lot of defeat, humiliation, and hardship before the willfully stupefied masses of middle America wake up. And thatís not likely to happen in the near future. So why torture yourself. Get the hell out of there.
You could be living the easy life in Thailand..... or indulging as a vagrant scholar in Indonesia..... or at least raking in money while exploring Japan, Korea, or Taiwan. You could be teaching English in Turkey. You could be doing yoga in India. You could be drinking beer in Prague. And it really is better than the States. People elsewhere ARE more knowledgeable. Other than America and Israel, the rest of the world despises George Bush and his American Taliban. Think how nice it would be to be habitually surrounded by Bush-haters. It relieves all kinds of stress.
And you are doing good for your country too-- acting as a goodwill ambassador-- showing the world that there are intelligent freedom-loving Americans. In fact, that describes the majority of American expats. My Thai friends were bewildered when Bush won; they said that every American they knew hated Bush.
Come join us. Why not seek sanctuary from the redneck hordes? Why not take a break? Its really quite easy. Check out the job boards on www.daveseslcafe.com
In one month you could be on a plane out of the States, headed towards more enlightened people, better food, and new experiences. Go ahead, Flee!
[OK.... this is an opportunity to try out the photo feature on blogger...... if all goes well, a picture from Thammasat University will appear in the post......]
Part time hobopoetry. In a past post, Hakim Bey wrote about the strategy of part-time Hobopoetry (see July 2003 archive). He noted that not all people are inclined to live as full-time wandering nomads. And so he proposed the idea of the part-time Hobopoet... drawing from ancient Celtic themes.... of warriors who split their year between work (serving the king) and anarchic freedom (living in the woods as free hunters).
Another example he proposed was that of the summer camp-- a three to four month time of freedom and revelry completely autonomous from the world of school/work.
This, I think, is a very workable idea for most folks.... a good strategy. For the last two years I have pursued a full-time hobopoet life. I lived in my van, I bartered for food and coffee, I wandered SE Asia, I loafed in Thailand.
But now the money is getting low. What to do? I've decided to pursue a part-time hobopoet strategy for now.... to find work that is as easy and enjoyable as possible, live simply, and save save save until I have enough to fund another long bout of unemployment. I've reduced this to a simple formula... a ratio of work to play.
My goal is to work as little as possible while increasing the amount of freedom and ecstacy I have in my life.... and to increase the amount of freedom that each day of work will "buy". Right now, Im at 1 to 3. That is, for every month (or year) that I work I can generally save enough to pay for another three months (or years) of living expenses. This ratio assumes that I want a reasonably comfortable and enjoyable life.... Im not a masochist after all.
So I'll be working again soon (dammit)... but I hope to minimize the damage by finding a fairly easy and enjoyable job-- move to Japan to explore and maybe save more money... and then head out on another extended journey (without having to worry about money). South America calls.
It's not an ideal Hobopoet situation, but is remarkably better than my previous years of pointless toil. Working becomes alot less dreadful and intimidating once that ratio creeps above 1:2... when you have twice as many free months as work months.
For reluctant would-be hobopoets this may be a great way to start... keep working for now... but pour your energies into simplifying your life.... every day, every month, every year. Get a cheaper apartment, reduce expenses, buy less consumer shit, cut up those credit cards.... save, save, save as much as you can. As the savings build- so too will your options. Keep simplifying... until you reach that day when you realize you have enough.... enough for that big trip... enough for that piece of land... enough for that airplane ticket. From there, no effort is required. Once you've tasted extended freedom, you'll never willingly go back to slavery.
At times I've encouraged folks to "take the leap", but for some this may seem too much. To them I say, "just take a few small steps.... consider a try at being a part-time hobopoet". If you do, you may discover that freedom is its own reward... and it is addictive!!
This, in fact, has been my approach... a gradual simplification of my life.... a gradual increase in freedom. I didn't suddenly burn all my shit and move into the van overnight. It was a process of years. I have great admiration for those folks who suddenly transform their lives in dramatic ways. I admire their bravado and boldness. But we aren't all built that way.... my way has been one of steady persistence. There have been setbacks, but through dogged determination (and little else) my life has indeed grown freer, more interesting, and more enjoyable. And so to those who lack boldness and bravado, consider my example. Do not lose hope. Keep at it... just keep taking those tiny steps towards simplicity, independence, and freedom.
When all else fails, persistence will see you through!
Saturday, November 20, 2004
I was delighted to recently come across information about the Goliards (see posts below)-- vagrant scholars of the middle ages. What I like most is the term "vagrant scholar" as it evokes yet another possible arch-type for Hobopoets. Despite my semi-serious scholarly pursuits, I've never had much respect for scholars or academia.... but by attaching the word "vagrant", I think the term is rehabilitated. A vagrant scholar implies, to me, one who is dedicated to both knowledge and experience.
Most of the self-described scholars I've known (teachers and professors mostly) have been befuddled old fools completely out of touch with direct experience. But imagine a wandering group of scholars dedicated not only to knowledge-- but to TESTING that knowledge through direct empirical experiences. Now that's a worthy endeavor!
The vagrant scholar archtype opens up yet another path for would-be hobopoets. One mistake I often see among rebels and outcasts is the tendency to view their way as THE way. Those of this mindset declare, for example, that if you aren't living in your van, or jumping trains, or meditating 4 hours a day, or whatever.. then you aren't a REAL hobopoet. But this is just conformity and style masquerading as freedom.
The hobopoet life is not for everyone... quite obviously. And even among hobopoets... there is tremendous variation. Some do live in their vans (I did), some do jump trains (never have), some are highly spiritual. But some are part-time hobopoets. Some are permanent students-- vagrant scholars. Some are far more intellectual than spiritual. Some are earthy sensualists. Some are aesthetics. Some are poets. Some are dharma bums. Some are "homeless professionals". There are many paths to freedom and self-reliance.....
And so let's add "vagrant scholar" to our growing list of hobopoet archtypes..... wandering from place of learning to place of learning..... travelling nerds..... debauched professors..... worldly academics.... educated bums.....
While involuntary homeless life in America is no picnic.... homelessness in Thailand is truly a sad and sorry affair. In Thailand, there is absolutely no safety net for the mentally ill. Those without family support are subject to horrid degredation, terrible humiliation, and truly wretched lives. I admit, even with my experience with homelessness in America (as both a social worker and a voluntary homeless person) I find it very hard to face the situation in Thailand.
The beggars in Bangkok are often filthy.... their clothes and skin are black from grime, dirt, and pollution. You see them crouched on street corners, or on the pedestrian bridges that cross major roads. You often smell them before you see them. They stink because many have not bathed in months... perhaps years. Many of the worst... the skinniest and dirtiest, are clearly mentally ill. They talk to themselves or stare with wide and wild eyes. Their movements are quick and jerky. Sometimes they rock back and forth while kneeling in front of a bowl for coins. Others prostrate themselves for hours in an act of humility and desperation. Their eyes are often red and glassy.
For all their professed Buddhist beliefs, many Thais are incredibly insensitive to the homeless population... a situation much like the United States. Thais justify their indifference and judgement by insisting that there are no homeless Thais in Bangkok. According to every Thai person I have asked about the subject (many), all of the homeless people are either Burmese, Cambodian, or Laotian. Thais, therefore, express righteous indignation that these foreigners are coming into Thailand to wheedle money out of good, hard-working Thais. The parallels to American attitudes about Latino immigrants are clear and just as ugly.
Another defense that Thais have against their conscience is an ongoing, media reinforced, urban myth. According to this myth... which Thais insist has been validated by newspaper articles.... the majority of homeless beggars are actually skilled hustlers who make lucrative salaries from begging. The story is that these wily folks dress themselves in rags and cover themselves in filth and then trick Thais into giving them loads of money. Yesterday, a Thai friend told me that the average beggar, according to an unnamed Thai newspaper, makes 3000 Baht a day!!!
I have never seen anyone, however, give a beggar more than 20 Baht... and that is extremely rare. Most people give a 5 Baht coin. Apparently, these guys are carrying around bags of coins at the end of every day... According to the urban myth, they all have cell phones and motorcycles. I'm sure they live in palaces too.
Of course this is a cynical and ugly lie. From long experience in shelters and Emergency Rooms, I know the smell of long-term filth. You can't fake that by smudging some dirt on your body every morning. I also recognize the genuine signs of mental illness. These people are living wretched lives. Most look malnourished. Their eyes scream desperation.
Amazingly, many Thais also claim that the beggars are alcoholics and addicts and therefore should not be given money. These are often the same people who told me that the beggars are wily rich foreigners. So according to the myth... the beggars are wily, drug addicted foreigners who are making tons of money. Hmmmmm.
Why all these lies and denial? I suppose its a deep seated defense mechanism by otherwise decent people to avoid an overwhelming human problem. How do you look into the eyes of one of these people without being moved to compassion? But if you do that... what next? Giving them a few coins or bills doesn't seem to help much... cause there they are the next day... just as wrethed as they were before. And if you give, say, 100 Baht to one beggar (or $1)... what about the next, and the next, and the next.
This question haunted me when I travelled in India.... facing the inexhaustible population of beggars. At one point I decided to always carry a full pocket of coins and to give to every beggar I came across. Thirty minutes after visiting the bank, I was mobbed and pick-pocketed by a gang of homeless children... who took all of the coins and other money in my pockets. So much for good intentions.
The truth is... this is not an individual problem and it cannot be solved (in any country) at an individual level. I hate to sound all lefty-liberal.... but this is what happens when people have no safety net: no healthcare, no housing options for the unemployed or unemployable, no effective drug rehab for the poor, no livable wage, no education or training, no food for the hungry. Homelessness-- and I'm talking about the involuntary, degrading, impoverished kind-- is a deep and systemic problem that must ultimately be addressed at the systemic level.
So my answer, such as it is, is this: By all means give some coins or bills when you can. By all means give a jacket, or some food. Better still, volunteer with the Mad Housers, or Food Not Bombs... or give them a donation. But more importantly, support efforts for systemic change..... do what you can (even if its just writing a check) to promote free medical care, free food, free education, free drug rehab, free (and effective) mental health treatment, and free housing for those who cannot afford it. And just as importantly, rid yourself of all the lies and urban myths that perpetuate cruelty towards the homeless. These are human beings and they are suffering.
If you really want to do something radical, sit down and talk to one of these people for thirty minutes. Ask them about their lives... how they live now, how they became homeless, how they lived before they were homeless. You can do this whereever you live... be it India, Europe, or America. For thirty minutes, let go of the media programming and try to see and hear the real human being in front of you.
If nothing else, even if you never give a cent to another beggar for the rest of your life,.... you can at least respect their dignity as human beings. You can at least see them. And listen to them.
Just thirty minutes.
Every homeless person I met during my years as both a social worker and a Hobopoet has been deserving of dignity, compassion, and respect. Every person, except one perhaps. I did meet one loathsome man who turned my stomach,.... but I admit that I am hesitant to completely condemn even him.
I first met Captain Underpants sitting outside Cafe Royale.... at one of the outdoor tables. He struck me as just a typical homeless person. Actually, he seemed particularly intelligent, now that I think of it.... or at least, well educated. And so I got to talking with him. We talked about strategies for car living, about downtown Athens, about coffee. Then he let me into his confidence. He had one little fetish.... one eccentricity... and wanted to know if he could share it with me.
My first thought was, "OK, he's gay. No big deal". But what he said was, "I like to wear used women's underwear." What is the proper polite response to such an admission. Years of social work and counselling had never taught me. So, if in doubt, just nod and say "Hmm, OK"--- which I did. I squirmed a little in my chair to... because I wasn't quite sure where he was going with this. But, it turns out, he just wanted to "share". When he realized I wasn't going to shout or condemn him or run screaming, he seemed satisfied and moved onto other (more comfortable) topics.
I'm basically a social libertarian.... and while I wasn't necessarily comfortable talking with a stranger about his underwear fetish.... I certainly didn't condemn it. Whatever makes you happy! So long as its between consenting adults, I don't care what perversion people choose to indulge in: Drug use, kinky sex, pornography, organized religion. Whatever.
So I smirked a bit and shrugged my shoulders and that was that. Unfortunately, underwear was not the Captain's only fetish. During our next conversation, he decided to open up to me further. I don't know why.... maybe I have an innocent face... or maybe its the years of listening to people's problems.... but whatever the reason, strangers are constantly confiding extremely personal details to me. It used to freak me out... but now I'm used to it. So it wasn't a total shock when Captain Underpants revealed his second fetish: he collected catalogue pictures.
"OK", I thought, "This seems weird and pointless, but what the hell". "Can I show them to you", he asked.... and I responded, "Sure, why not." And so the Captain opened his bookbag and pulled out a stack of carefully folded pages that he'd ripped from catalogues. One by one he unfolded them and laid them gingerly on the table for me to look at. They were all of the same thing: young girls in underwear. By "young", I mean eight to fourteen year olds.
My stomach knotted..... this was more than just a kinky perversion for a consenting adult. His eyes were beady and his lips tight as he laid each picture on the table. My leg began to tap, tap, tap nervously. My face screwed up and pinched towards my nose. I mumbled and jittered and finally I looked at the time and said, "Well, OK, Sorry, I've got to get going." I hurried off as fast as I could.
It got worse. One day... maybe a month later, I was strolling down Prince Avenue when I caught sight of the Captain. My first thought was to duck down a sidestreet and avoid him... but then I saw that he was not alone. He was standing in a parking lot talking to a young girl, who was sitting on a bicycle. She looked, maybe, ten years old. He was carrying the bookbag.... and suddenly those catalogue pictures flashed into my mind. "Oh God", I mumbled to myself.
And so I swallowed my disgust and walked directly towards them. He caught sight of me- his faced turned stony, his eyes opened wide, and his hands began to fidget. "Hi Captain", I said and tried my best to look stern and intimidating... which is usually a lost cause for me. But he seemed to get the message. His eyes darted back and forth between me and the girl (who pedalled off to do circles in the parking lot). "Hi", he said weakly. "Whose that?", I accused... nodding towards the girl. "Oh, I was just TALKING to her"... he fidgeted. I stood and said nothing. As did he. His eyes looked at his shoes.... the girl continued to ride in circles.
"Well, I gotta go", he said. "OK".
He shuffled off quickly, "See ya around", and headed off towards downtown. I remained in the parking lot for a few more minutes. The girl waved and shouted, "Bye Captain". He shot her a quick glance and a short wave. She then turned her bike down a side street, towards Boulevard.... and I continued my walk.
Of course, I don't know what, if anything, he would have done with the girl. Maybe nothing. Or maybe he'd only fantasize and nothing more.... crawl off to an alley to jerk off. But I feared the worst. And fearing the worst, I doubted that this was his first encounter with a young girl. Had they all ended so innocently? I took a deep breath and tried to clear the sound and sight of him from my mind.
Of course, some could use this story as proof that, "see, homeless people are perverted scum bags!". Well, this homeless person MAY have been. However, most child molesters are not homeless. I worked for three years in a youth shelter, counselling children/teenagers who had been physically or sexually abused. In those three years, I never met a child who had been molested by a homeless person. No, most molesters are employed, respected, upstanding good citizens. No one ever suspects them. In fact, in the majority of cases, all the other good citizens in the child's family and community accuse her (or him) of lying. Certainly, Mr. Good Citizen is not a child molester... so the child must be a vindictive liar. It's the usual reaction.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of child molesters are family members: Fathers, Uncles, Step-Dads, Brothers, Cousins. Molestation occurs mostly in the home-- not on the street or in an alley. Paranoid parents should be far more worried about Uncle Phil than about some anonymous prowling predator. And if your child says she or he was molested by Uncle Phil, you should not call her a liar.
In fact, I suspect that if Captain Underpants had molested girls in the past- they were not strangers he'd met on the street. Most likely he would have molested someone he knew... probably a relative. If nothing else, it is extremely risky to assault a young girl on the street. People tend to be wary when they see a strange man approach a girl, just as I was in the above example. It can happen, but it is FAR less common. No, most likely, if he had molested in the past, he'd done so in his own home or the home of a relative.
This is, of course, no comfort to anyone.
Just as the homeless people in Bangkok are typically wretched, so too the homeless animals. I'm a critter loving vegetarian, so it has been difficult to adjust to the daily scene of horrors that I encounter on Bangkok's roads. Never have I seen so many injured, starving, mangy, animals in my life (actually, that's not true, India was worse).
The dogs in particular are in horrid shape. The cats seem to do much better, perhaps its easier for them to eat a healhty diet of mice and rats... which are plentiful in the city. But the dogs are often skin stretched over bone. They hobble around pitifully but seem to get no sympathy from the average Thai person. In fact, many Thais... many Thai men that is, will kick or hit the dogs as a way of venting frustrations. Thai society discourages direct confrontation or anger between people, so the animals often get the brunt of mis-directed rage.
Injury is very common-- and again the dogs seem to be the worst. For some reason, the most common injury is a broken back leg. These seem to be the result of getting hit by cars mostly. Many Thai drivers make no effort to slow or avoid an animal in the road... and the animals are always in the road... especially the smaller ones. Another problem is that dogs often sleep under parked vehicles to avoid the intense tropical sun. Typically, a driver will leap into the car, start the engine and zoom off before the dog has time to get away... and thus its leg or body gets run over. Considerate Thais will always check under their car first... and shoo away the animals. But many don't seem to care.
Worse still, people don't take their animals to the vet. I saw a pet dog get hit in the back leg by a car..... it squealed terribly and came running over to its owner.... back leg held high and clearly injured..... The owner just grinned, looked at it for a second, and went back to eating his lunch. I see this dog all the time-- its broken leg has healed, but is not useable... so that it now has only three functional legs. Its a shame, because its a beautiful and otherwise healthy animal. Apparently, spending time and money on an animal is not a priority.
In my more irritable moments I am annoyed by the hypocrisy of supposedly devout Thai Buddhist who in fact follow none of Buddhisms teachings of compassion.... but then I am reminded of the hordes of war-mongering, gay-baiting, anger filled "Christians" in America. Religious hypocrisy is a global phenomenon.
Of course, this is not true of all Thai Buddhist. For example, temples are the typical location of Thai "animal shelters". In other words, people often drop off their strays at temples, because the monks will feed them and will not kill them. Its a strange phenomenon. Buddhism prohibits killing so Thais won't kill stray dogs. But they have no problem with beating them, starving them, or letting them suffer terribly while doing nothing. They say they will not kill animals because of Buddhist teachings, yet eat large amounts of meat. In other words, they are following dogma and ritual and don't really care about the spirit of the teachings.
So what can I or another individual do? Again, its a personal dilemma. The suffering is overwhelming and well beyond my capacity to dent. Basically, I do the little that I can.... but mostly this too is a systemic/cultural problem. What would truly help would be: compassionate treatment from the Thais towards their animals (requiring alot of public education), publicly funded spay and nueter programs, publicly funded vaccination programs, and the like. If I learned anything as a social worker... its that societal problems must be addressed at the societal level.
Freelancing is a means of making an income without resorting to full scale wage slavery. Yes, a freelancer still has to work... and oftentimes this work is assigned by a client. Despite these drawbacks, there are still many benefits to working for yourself. The first and most obvious is flexibility. As a freelancer, you choose when you work, where you work, for whom you work, how you work, and under what conditions you work. As a freelancer, you are on more equal footing with those paying you. A typical wage slave is nothing but an obedient grunt: the boss says "kiss my ass" and the wage slave replies "sir, yes sir". But the freelancer is a hired gun. You choose which jobs you take and if the client says "kiss my ass" you can kick it instead.
There are lots of possibilities for freelancing... in almost any field: writing, teaching, consulting, yard work, computer programming, graphic design, massage, etc.... There are freelance opportunities for every education, every experience, and every temperment.
For example, I now make a living as both a freelance writer and a freelance English teacher. Since I'm an international nomad, I chose activities that I could do from anywhere in the world. As a writer, all I need is a laptop or internet access and I'm good to go. I can write and submit articles from anywhere in the world. One month I'm in Bangkok, the next month I'm in Chang Mai,.... then I head down to Malaysia to visit a friend... then off to India for a pilgrimage vacation-- all the while I can continue writing, submitting articles, and receiving an income. It's a fantastic way to be a hobopoet (for those who are not independently wealthy- which I am not).
Freelance English teaching requires a little more stability, but not much. English as a foreign language is in huge demand in almost every country in the world. This includes the United States, by the way, where there is a huge immigrant population that wants to learn English. Freelance teaching is a readily available source of income wherever I go in the world. I know I'll never starve because I can always find students. Typically I choose to teach private lessons to small groups, as this is much more lucrative than teaching one-on-one. Also, I've found that teaching only one student is difficult and boring-- the possibilities for interaction and communication are much more interesting with a small group of four or five than with just one person. Finally, by teaching small groups, I am able to charge students less per hour but still make a great hourly income myself. The freelance teaching option is a great option for neo-nomads who want to have an extended stay somewhere (a year or more). It is superior to working a full time job because you can create your own (generous) vacation and holiday schedule and thus have plenty of time for wandering and exploring the country.
For those with technical skills--- such as business experience or computer skills.... the possibilities are even more exciting and more lucrative. The first possibility is to follow the English teaching angle... but specialize in "English for Special Purposes". In other words, be a freelance teacher of Business English or Computer Science English. If your skills/experience are especially good, you could set yourself up as a freelance consultant. Approach small businesses and offer your services. I'm no businessman, so I recommend reading some books on establishing a consulting business, designing a business presentation, etc....
A very simple and low tech approach, if you have artistic abilities, is to sell your artwork. For example, a Thai friend of mine makes jewelry and sells it to tourists. He goes to Khao San Road every night, lays out a blanket, spreads out his jewelry, and does very well. In fact, he's expanded his freelancing into a small business-- now employs four workers and also sells wholesale to larger jewelry stores in Bangkok. When I was teaching in Korea, I met a couple that used to live in a sailboat in the Caribbean. They made jewelry and supported themselves by sailing from port to port, selling their stuff to tourists on the islands.
In fact, you don't even have to make your own stuff. Many travellers go to India and Thailand, buy large quantities of jewelry and artwork, and then support themselves in Seoul or Tokyo by selling it (at considerably inflated prices).
Finally, there is the tried and true art of busking. I met a "homeless" guy in Athens, Georgia who supported himself completely by playing his fiddle on street corners. In fact, he made enough money to buy a plane ticket to Sweden every year-- where he also busked for a living. The Fiddler is a troubadour in the very ancient sense of the word... a wandering traveller who makes his living through street-side musical performances. Such folks can be found in almost every city in the world.
So whether you are a potential "young homeless professional", a wandering teacher, a dharma bum writer, a cyberhobo, an artist, or a troubadour...... freelancing is an excellent way to live a neo-nomadic life (without starving or begging).
Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ)-theory tries to concern itself with existing or emerging situations rather than with pure utopianism. All over the world people are leaving or "disappearing" themselves from the Grid of Alienation and seeking ways to restore human contact. An interesting example of this-on the level of "urban folk culture"-can be found in the proliferation of hobby networks and conferences. Recently I discovered the zines of two such groups, Crown Jewels of the Hlgh Wire (devoted to the collection of glass electrical insulators) and a journal on cucurbitology (The Gourd). A vast amount of creativity goes into these obsessions. The various periodic gatherings of fellow-maniacs amount to genuine face-to-face (unmediated) festivals of eccentricity. It's not just the "counter-culture" which seeks its TAZs, its nomad encampments and nights of liberation from the Consensus. Self-organized and autonomous groups are springing up amongst every "class" and "sub-culture". Vast tracts of the Babylonian Empire are now virtually empty, populated only by the spooks of MassMedia, and a few psychotic policemen.
TAZ-theory realizes that THIS IS HAPPENING- we're not talking about "should" or "will be"-we're talking about an already-existing movement. Our use of various thought-experiments, utopian poetics, paranoia criticism, etc., aims at helping to clarify this complex and still largely undocumented movement, to give it some theoretical focus and self-awareness, and to suggest tactics based on coherent integral strategies-to act the midwife or the panegyrist, not the "vanguard"!
And so we've had to consider the fact that not all existing autonomous zones are "temporary". Some are (at least by intention) more-or-less "permanent". Certain cracks in the Babylonian Monolith appear so vacant that whole groups can move into them and settle down. Certain theories, such as "Permaculture", have been developed to deal with this situation and make the most of it. "Villages", "communes", "communities", even "arcologies" and "biospheres" (or other utopian-city forms) are being experimented with and implemented. Even here however TAZ-theory may offer some useful thought-tools and clarifications.
What about a poetique (a "way of making") and a politique (a "way of living-together) for the "permanent" TAZ (or "PAZ")? What about the actual relation between temporariness and permanence? And how can the PAZ renew and refresh itself periodically with the "festival" aspect of the TAZ?
THE QUESTION OF PUBLICITY
Recent events in the US and Europe have shown that self-organized/autonomous groups strike fear into the heart of the State. MOVE in Philadelphia, the Koreshites of Waco, Deadheads, Rainbow Tribes, computer-hackers, squatters, etc., have been targeted for varying intensity-levels of extermination. And yet other autonomous groups go unnoticed, or at least unpersecuted. What makes the difference? One factor may be the malign effect of publicity or mediation. The Media experience a vampiric thirst for the shadow-Passion play of "Terrorism", Babylon's public ritual of expiation, scapegoating, and blood-sacrifice. Once any autonomous group allows this particular "gaze" to fall upon it, the shit hits the fan:-the Media will try to arrange a mini-armageddon to satisfy its junk-sickness for spectacle and death.
Now, the PAZ makes a fine sitting target for such a Media smart-bomb. Beseiged inside its "con-pound", the self-organized group can only succumb to some sort of cheap pre-determined martyrdom. Presumably this role appeals only to neurotic masochists??? In any case, most groups will want to live out their natural span or trajectory in peace and quiet. A good tactic here might be to avoid publicity from the Mass Media as if it were the plague. A bit of natural paranoia comes in handy, so long as it doesn't become an end in itself. One must be cunning in order to get away with being bold. A touch of camoflage, a flair for invisibility, a sense of tact as a tactic...might be as useful to a PAZ as a TAZ. Humble suggestions:-Use only "intimate media" (zines, phonetrees, BBSs, free radio and mini-FM, public-access cable, etc.)-avoid blustering-macho- confrontationist attitude-you don't need five seconds on the Evening News ("Police Raid Cultists") to validate your existence. Our slogan might be:-"Get a life, not a life-style."
People probably ought to choose the people they live with. ''Open-membership" communes invariably end up swamped with freeloaders and sex-starved pathetic creeps. PAZs must choose their own membership mutually-this has nothing to do with "elitism". The PAZ may exercize a temporarily open function-such as hosting festivals or giving away free food, etc.-but it need not be permanently open to any self-proclaimed sympathizer who wanders by.
THE EMERGENCE OF A GENUINELY ALTERNATIVE ECONOMY
Once again, this is already happening-but it still needs a huge amount of work before it comes into focus. The sub-economies of "lavoro nero", untaxed transactions, barter, etc., tend to be severely limited and localized. BBSs and other networking systems could be used to link up these regional/marginal aeconomies ("household managements") into a viable alternative economy of some magnitude. "P.M." has already outlined something like this in bolo'bolo-in fact a number of possible systems already exist, in theory anyway. The problem is: -how to construct a true alternative economy, i.e. a complete economy, without attracting the IRS and other capitalist runningdogs? How can I exchange my skills as, say, a plumber or moonshiner, for the food, books, shelter, and psychoactive plants I want-without paying taxes, or even without using ally State-forged money? How can I live a comfortable (even luxurious) life free of all interactions and transactions with CommodityWorld? If we took all the energy the Leftists put into "demos", and all the energy the Libertarians put into playing futile little 3rd-party games, and if we redirected all that power into the construction of a real underground economy, we would already have accomplished "the Revolution" long ago.
THE "WORLD" CAME TO AN END IN 1972
The hollowed-out effigy of the Absolute State finally toppled in "1989". The last ideology, Capitalism, is no more than a skin-disease of the Very Late Neolithic. It's a desiring-machine running on empty. I'm hoping to see it deliquesce in my lifetime, like one of Dali's mindscapes. And I want to have somewhere to "go" when the shit comes down. Of course the death of Capitalism needn't entail the Godzilla-like destruction of all human culture; this scenario is merely a terror- image propagated by Capitalism itself. Nevertheless it stands to reason that the dreaming corpse will spasm violently before rigor mortis sets in-and New York or LA may not be the smartest places to wait out the storm. (And the storm may already have begun.) [On the other hand NYC and LA might not be the worst places to create the New World; one can imagine whole squatted neighborhoods, gangs transformed into Peoples' Militias, etc.] Now, the gypsy-RV way of life may be one way to deal with the on-going melt-down of Too-Late Capitalism - but as for me, I'd prefer a nice anarchist monastery somewhere-a typical place for "scholars" to sit out the "Dark Ages". The more we organize this NOW the less hassle we'll have to face later. I'm not talking about "survival"-I'm not interested in mere survival. I want to thrive. BACK TO UTOPIA.
The PAZ serves a vital function as a node in the TAZ-web, a meetingplace for a wide circle of friends and allies who may not actually live fulltime on the "farm" or in the "village". Ancient villages held fairs which brought wealth to the community, provided markets for travelers, and created festal time/space for all participants. Nowadays the festival is emerging as one of the most important forms for the TAZ itself, but can also provide renewal and fresh energy for the PAZ. I remember reading somewhere that in the Middle Ages there were one hundred and eleven holidays a year; we should take this as our "utopian minimum" and strive to do even better. [Note: the utopian minima proposed by C. Fourier consisted of more food and sex than the average 18th century French aristocrat enjoyed; B. Fuller proposed the term "bare minimum" for a similar concept]
THE LIVING EARTH
I believe that there exist plenty of good selfish reasons for desiring the "organic" (it's sexier), the "natural" (it tastes better), the "green" (it's more beautiful), the Wild(er)ness (it's more exciting). Communitas (as P. Goodman called it) and conviviality (as I. Illich called it) are more pleasurable than their opposites. The living earth need not exclude the organic city-the small but intense conglomeration of humanity devoted to the arts and slightly decadent joys of a civilization purged of all its gigantism and enforced loneliness-but even those of us who enjoy cities can see immediate and hedonic motives for fighting for the "environment". We are militant biophiles. Deep ecology, social ecology, permaculture, appropriate tech..we're not too picky about ideologies. Let 1000 flowers bloom.
A "weird religion" or a rebel art movement can become a kind of non-local PAZ, like a more intense and all-consuming hobby network. The Secret Society (like the Chinese Tong) also provides a model for a PAZ without geographic limits. But the "perfect case scenario" involves a free space that extends into free time. The essence of the PAZ must be the long-drawn-out intensification of the joys-and risks-of the TAZ. And the intensification of the PAZ will be....Utopia Now.
Friday, November 19, 2004
ìWhat if I canít find a job?î
ìWhat if the money runs out and I canít get home?î
ìWhat if I starve?î
ìWhat if Iím robbed/beaten/killed?î
ìWhat if I I hate it... and am a pathetic failure... and come crawling home to humiliation?î
Such are the doubts that keep us enslaved. Iíve been there. For years I yearned for freedom..... the giddy rush of boarding a plane.... an adventure.... someplace foreign.... the unknown.
And for years I was paralyzed by idiotic doubts. Thankfully, I overcame them. Now, many years later,... I see them for what they were-- phantoms, ghosts, ìmind-forged manaclesî. And so with absolute and unshaking confidence I can give would-be wanderers the following advice: Just Go. Forget the fears. Forget the parents. Forget the whining boyfriend. Forget the goddam ìcareerî. Forget the worries about money (because a trip you can afford isnít worth taking). Forget it all and just go.
ìEvery man [and woman] is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and most critical hour,î so wrote Thoreau and I wholeheartedly agree. What scares me most is to reach the end of my life never having pursued my dreams. Most people toil in semi-slavery until they are 65+.... forever dreaming of that day when they will retire and be free. By then, of course, they are so dulled by routine and tedium--- so fat and tired from decades of lethargy-- that they have no clue what to do with themselves. A few of the ìadventurousî ones book a package tour of Europe. The rest fart their remaining years away on the golf course and at the Senior Center.
What a tragedy. All those decades of goddawful boredom for THAT? THAT is the big reward?
Better to try and fail. Better to live now. But donít settle for some half-hearted, bloodless failure. Dare to fail with audacity. Quit that fucking job right now. Book that ticket right now.... and if you donít have the money- start that savings account right now. Pack your bags,.... sell, trash, burn your useless shit.......This is your life. Live it.
Get on Daveís ESL Cafe right now...... or one of the many Hoboteach links on the sidebar. Choose a job from a job board and fire off a resume TODAY.
In years of social work experience, working with dying AIDS patients and dying cancer patients, I never... NEVER... had one tell me, ìI wish I would have played it safeî. Always.... and I do mean always.. their regrets were of risks not taken, dreams not pursued, words not spoken.
Heed the advice of the regretful dead: Just go.
Monday, November 15, 2004
This American government,-- what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves; and, if ever they should use it in earnest as a real one against each other, it will surely split. But it is not the less necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have. Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage. It is excellent, we must all allow; yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way. For government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it....
After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted , and for a long period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in which the majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?-- in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right.... Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, aye, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclinded. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small moveable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?
Visit the Navy Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts,--- a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniments.....
The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw, or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens.
Sunday, November 14, 2004
The modest goal of this little essay is to address the individual traveler who has decided to resist tourism.
Even though we may find it impossible in the end to purify ourselves and our travel from every last taint and trace of tourism, we still feel that improvement may be possible.
Not only do we disdain tourism for its vulgarity and its injustice, and therefore wish to avoid any contamination (conscious or unconscious) by its viral virulency-- we also lavish to understand travel as an act of reciprocity rather than alienation. In other words, we don't wish merely to avoid the negativities of tourism, but even more to achieve positive travel, which we envision as a productive and mutually enhancing relation between self and other, guest and host -- a form of cross cultural synergy in which the whole exceeds the sum of parts.
We'd like to know if travel can be carried out according to a secret economy of baraka (blessing), whereby not only the shrine but also the pilgrims themselves have blessings to bestow.
Before the Age of the Commodity, we know, there was an Age of the Gift, of reciprocity, of giving and receiving. We learned this from the tales of certain travelers, who found remnants of the world of the Gift among certain tribes, in the form of potlach or ritual exchange, and recorded their observations of such strange practises.
Not long ago there still existed a custom among South Sea islanders of travelling vast distances by outrigger canoe, without compass or sextant, in order to exchange valuable and useless presents (ceremonial artt objects rich in mana) from island to island in a complex pattern of overlapping reciprocities.
We suspect that even though travel in the modern world seems to have been taken over by the Commodity - even though the networks of convivial reciprocity seem to have vanished from the map - even though tourism seems to have triumphed - even so - we continue to suspect that other pathways still persist, other tracks, unofficial, not noted on the map, perhaps even secret pathways still linked to the possibility of an economy of the Gift, smugglers' routes for freespirits, known only to the geomantic guerillas of the art of travel.
As a matter of fact, we don't just suspectit. We know it. We know there exists an art of travel.
Perhaps the greatest and subtlest practitioners of the art of travel were the sufis, the mystics of Islam. Before the age of passports, immunisations, airlines and other impediments to free travel, the sufis wandered footloose in a world where borders tended to be more permeable than nowadays, thanks to the transnationalism of Islam and the cultural unity of Dar al-Islam, the Islamic world.
The great medieval Moslem travelers, like Ibn Battuta and Naser Khusraw, have left accounts of vast journies - Persia to Egypt, or even Morocco to China-which never set foot outside a landscape of deserts, camels, caravanserais, bazaars, and piety. Someone always spoke Arabic, however badly, and Islamic culture permeated the remotest backwaters, however superficially. Reading the tales of Sinbad the sailor (from the 1001 Nights) gives us the impression of a world where even the terra incognita was still despite all marvels and oddities - somehow familiar, somehow Islamic. Within this unity, which was not yet a uniformity, the sufis formed a special class of travelers. Not warriors, not merchants, and not quite ordinary pilgrims either, the dervishes represent a spiritualization of pure nomadism.
According to the Koran, God's Wide Earth and everything in it are sacred not only as divine creations but also because the material world is full of waymarks or signs of divine reality, Moreover, Islam itself is born between two journies, Mohammad's hijra or flight from Mecca to Medina, and his hajj, or return voyage. The hajj is the movement toward the origin and center for every Moslem even today, and the annual Pilgrimage has played a vital role not just in the religious unity of Islam but also in its cultural unity.
Mohammad himself exemplifies every kind of travel in Islam: - his youth with the Meccan caravans of Summer and Winter, as a merchant; his campaigns as a warrior his triumph as a humble pilgrim. Although an urban leader he is also the prophet of the Bedouin and himself a kind of nomad, a sojourner- an orphan. From this perspective travel can almost be seen as a sacrament. Every religion sanctifies travel to some degree, but Islam is virtually unimaginable without it.
The Prophet said, seek knowledge, even as far as China? From the beginning Islam lifts travel above all mundane utilitarianism and gives it an epistemological or even gnostic dimension. The jewel that never leaves the mine is never polished, says the sufi Saadi. To educate is to lead outside- to give the pupil a perspective beyond parochiality and mere subjectivity.
Some sufis may have done all their traveling in the Imaginal World of archetypal dreams and visions, but vast numbers of them took the Prophet's exhortations quite literally. Even today dervishes wander over the entire Islamic world-but as late as the 19th century they wandered in veritable hordes, hundreds or even thousands at a time, and covered vast distances. All in search of knowledge.
Unofficially there existed two basic types of wandering sufi: the gentleman scholar type, and the mendicant dervish. The former category includes Ibn Battuta (who collected sufi initiations the way some occidental gentlemen once collected masonic degrees); and on a much more serious level - the greatest Shaykh, Ibn Arabi, who meandered slowly through the 13th century from his native Spain, across North Africa through Egypt to Mecca, and finally to Damascus.
Ibn Arabi actually left accounts of his search for saints and adventures on the road, which could be pieced together from his voluminous writings to form a kind of rihla or travel text (a recognised genre of Islamic literature) or autobiography. Ordinary scholars travelled in search of rare texts on theology or jurisprudence, but Ibn Arabi sought only the highest secrets of esotericism and the loftiest openings into the world of divine illumination, for him every journey to the outer horizons was also a journey to the inner horizons of spiritual psychology and gnosis.
On the visions he experienced in Mecca alone he wrote a 12 volume work (The Meccan Revelations), and he has also left us precious sketches of hundreds of his contemporaries, from the greatest philosophers of the age to humble dervishes and madmen to anonymous women saints and Hidden Masters. Ibn Arabi enjoyed a special relation with Khezr, the immortal and unknown prophet, the Green Man who sometimes appears to wandering sufis in distress, to rescue them from the desert, or to initiate them. Khezr, in a sense, can be called the patron saint of the travelling dervishes - and the prototype. (He first appears in the Koran as a mysterious wanderer and companion of Moses in the desert.)
Christianity once included a few orders of wandering mendicants (in fact St. Francis organised one after meeting with dervishes in the Holy Land, who may have bestowed upon him a cloak of initiation- the famous patchwork robe he was wearing when he returned to Italy) - but Islam spawned dozens, perhaps hundreds of such orders.
As Sufism crystallised from the loose spontaneity of early days to an institution with rules and grades, travel for knowledge was also regularised and organised. Elaborate handbooks of duties for dervishes were produced which included methods for turning travel into a very specific form of meditation. The whole Sufi faith itself was symbolised in terms of intentional travel.
In some cases itineraries were fixed (e.g.,the Hajj); other involved waiting for signs to appear, coincidences, intuitions, adventures such as those which inspired the travels of the Arthurian knights. Some orders limited the time spent in any one place to 40 days; others made a rule of never sleeping twice in the same place. The strict orders, such as the Naqshbandis, turned travel into a kind of fulltime choreography, in which every movement was pre-ordained and designed to enhance consciousness.
By contrast, the more heterodox orders (such as the Qalandars) adopted a rule of total spontaneity and abandon -permanent unemployment one of them called it - an insouciance of bohemian proportions - a dropping ou ?at once both scandalous and completely traditional. Colorfully dressed, carrying their begging bowls, axes, and standards, addicted to music and dance, carefree and cheerful (sometimes to the point of blameworthiness?), orders such as the Nematollahis of 19th century Persia grew to proportions that alarmed both sultans and theologians - many dervishes were executed for heresy. Today the true Qalandars survive mostly in India, where their lapses from orthodoxy include a fondness for hemp and a sincere hatred of work. Some are charlatans, some are simply bums - but a suprizing number of them seem to be people of attainment .... how can I put it? .... people of self-realization, marked by a distinct aura of grace, or baraka.
All the different types of sub travel we've described are united by certain shared vital structural forces. One such force might be called a magical worldview, a sense of life that rejects the merely random for a reality of signs and wonders, of meaningful coincidences and unveilings? As anyone who's ever tried it will testify, intentional travel immediately opens one up to this magical influence.
A psychologist might explain this phenomenon (either with awe or with reductionist disdain) as subjective; while the pious believer would take it quite literally. From the sufi point of view neither interpretation rules out the other, nor suffices in itself, to explain away the marvels of the Path. In sufism, the objective and the subjective are not considered opposites, but complements. From the point of view of the two-dimensional thinker (whether scientific or religious) such paradoxology smacks of the forbidden.
Another force underlying all forms of intentional travel can be described by the Arabic word adab. On one level adab simply means good manners and in the case of travel these manners are based on the ancient customs of desert nomads, for whom both wandering and hospitality are sacred acts. In this sense the dervish shares both the privileges and the responsibilities of the guest.
Bedouin hospitality is a clear survival of the primordial economy of the Gift - a relation of reciprocity. The wanderer must be taken in (the dervish must be fed) - but thereby the wanderer assumes a role prescribed by ancient custom - and must give back something to the host. For the bedouin this relation is almost a form of clientage: - the breaking of bread and sharing of salt constitute a sort of kinship. Gratitude is not a sufficient response to such generosity. The traveler must consent to a temporary adoption -anything less would offend against adab.
Islamic society retains at least a sentimental attachment to these rules, and thus creates a special niche for the dervish, that of the full-time guest. The dervish returns the gifts of society with the gift of baraka (blessing). In ordinary pilgrimage the traveler receives baraka from a place, but the dervish reverses the flow and brings baraka to a place. The sufi may think of himself (or herself) as a permanent pilgrim - but to the ordinary stay-at-home people of the mundane world the sufi is a kind of perambulatory shrine.
Now tourism in its very structure breaks the reciprocity of host and guest. In English, a host may have either guests or parasites. The tourist is a parasite -- for no amount of money can pay for hospitality. The true traveler is a guest and thus serves a very real function, even today, in societies where the ideals of hospitality have not yet faded from the collective mentality To be a host, in such societies, is a meritorious act. Therefore, to be a guest is also to give merit.
The modern traveler who grasps the simple spirit of this relation will be forgiven many lapses in the intricate ritual of adab (how many cups of coffee? Where to put one's feet? How to be entertaining? How to show gratitude? etc.) peculiar to a specific culture. And if one bothers to master a few of the traditional forms of adab, and to deploy them with heartfelt sincerity, then both guest and host will gain more than they put into the relation and this more is the unmistakable sign of the presence of the Gift.
Another level of meaning of the word adab connects it with culture (since culture can be seen as the sum of all manners and customs); in modern usage the Department of Arts and Letters at a University would be called Adabiyyat. To have adab in this sense is to be polished (like that well-traveled gem) - but this has nothing necessarily to do with fine arts or literacy or being a city-slicker or even being cultured. It is a matter of the heart.
The true guest and host never make an obvious effort to fulfil the rules of reciprocity - they may follow the ritual scrupulously, or they many bend the forms creatively, but in either case they will give their actions a depth of sincerity that manifests as natural grace. Adab is a kind of love.
A complement of this technique (or Zen) of human relations can be found in the sufi manner of relating to the world in general. The mundane world - of social deceit and negativity, of usurious emotions inauthentic consciousness (boorishness, ill will, inattention, blind reaction, false spectacle, empty discourse, etc. etc.-all this no longer holds any interest for the traveling dervish). But those who say that the dervish has abandoned this world for God's Wide Earth- would be mistaken.
The wandering dervish manifests a state more typical of Islam in its most exuberant energies. He indeed seeks Expansion, spiritual joy based on the sheer multiplicity of the divine generosity in material creation. (Ibn Arabi has an amusing proof that this world is the best world - for, if it were not, then God would be ungenerous - which is absurd. Q.E.D.) In order to appreciate the multiple waymarks of the Wide Earth precisely as the unfolding of this generosity, the sufi cultivates what might be called the theophanic gaze : - the opening of the Eye of the Heart to the experience of certain places, objects people, events as locations of the shining-through of divine Light.
The dervish travels, so to speak, both in the material world and in the world of Imagination simultaneously. But for the eye of the heart these worlds interpenetrate at certain points. One might say that they mutually reveal or unveil each other. Ultimately, they are one and only our state of tranced inattention, our mundane consciousness, prevents us from experiencing this deep identity at every moment. The purpose of intentional travel, with its adventures and its uprooting of habits, is to shake loose the dervish from all the trance effects of ordinariness. Travel, in other words, is meant to induce a certain state of consciousness or spiritual state- that of Expansion.
For the wanderer, each person one meets might act as an angel, each shrine one visits may unlock some initiatic dream, each experience of Nature may vibrate with the presence of some spirit of place. Indeed, even the mundane and ordinary may suddenly be seen as numinous (as in the great travel haiku of the Japanese Zen poet Basho) - a face in the crowd at a railway station, crows on telephone wires, sunlight in a puddle....
Obviously one doesn't need to travel to experience this state. But travel can be used - that is, an art of travel can be acquired - to maximise the chances for attaining such a state. It is a moving meditation, like the Taoist martial arts. The Caravan of Summer moved outward, out of Mecca, to the rich trading lands of Syria and Yemen. Likewise the dervish is moving out (it's always moving day, heading forth, taking off, on perpetual holiday) as one poet expressed it, with an open Heart, an attentive eye (and other senses), and a yearning for Meaning, a thirst for knowledge. One must remain alert, since anything might suddenly unveil itself as a sign. This sounds like a kind of paranoia- although metanoia might be a better term -- and indeed one finds madmen amongst the dervishes, attracted ones overpowered by divine influxions, lost in the Light. In the Orient the insane are often cared for and admired as helpless saints, because mental illness may sometimes appear as a symptom of too much holiness rather than too little reason. Hemp's popularity amongst the dervishes can be attributed to its power to induce a kind of intuitive attentiveness which constitutes a controllable insanity: - herbal metanoia. But travel in itself can intoxicate the heart with the beauty of theophanic presence. It's a question of practise - the polishing of the jewel - removal of moss from the rolling stone.
In the old days (which are still going on in some remote parts of the East) Islam thought of itself as a whole world, a wide world, a space with great latitude within which Islam embraced the whole of society and nature. This latitude appeared on the social level as tolerance. There was room enough, even for such marginal groups as mad wandering dervishes. Sufism itself, or at least its austere orthodox and sober aspect-occupied a central position in the cultural discourse. Everyone understood intentional travel by analogy with the Hajj - everyone understood the dervishes, even if they disapproved.
And here is the flip side of the problem of tourism -the problem of the disappearance of aimless wandering. Possibly the two are directly related, so that the more tourism becomes possible, the more dervishism becomes impossible. In fact, we might well ask if this little essay on the delightful life of the dervish possesses the least bit of relevance for the contemporary world. Can this knowledge help us to overcome tourism, even within our own consciousness and life? Or is it merely an exercize in nostalgia for lost possibilities - a futile indulgence in romanticism?
Well, yes and no. Sure, I confess I'm hopelessly romantic about the form of the dervish life, to the extent that for a while I turned my back on the mundane world and followed it myself. Because of course, it hasn't really disappeared. Decadent yes - but not gone forever. What little I know about travel I learned in those few years - I owe a debt to medieval accretions I can never pay - and I'll never regret my escapism for a single moment. BUT - I don't consider the form of dervishism to be the answer to the problem of tourism. The form has lost most of its efficacy. There's no point in trying to preserve it (as if it were a pickle, or a lab specimen)-there's nothing quite so pathetic as mere survival.
But: beneath the charming outer forms of dervishism lies the conceptual matrix, so to speak, which we've called intentional travel. On this point we should suffer no embarrassment about nostalgia. We have asked ourselves whether or not we desire a means to discover the art of travel, whether we want and will to overcome the inner tourist- the false consciousness which screens us from the experience of the Wide World's waymarks. The way of the dervish (or of the Taoist, the Franciscan, etc.) interests us - finally - only to the extent that it can provide us with a key - not THE Key, perhaps - but . . . . a key. And of course - it does.
One fundamental key to success in Travel is of course attentiveness. We call it paying attention.
But what if we treated our perceptions as gifts rather than payments? What if we gave our attention instead of paying it? According to the law of reciprocity, the gift is returned with a gift - there is no expenditure, no scarcity, no debt against Capital, no penury, no punishment for giving our attention away, and no end to the potentiality of attentiveness.
Our consciousness is not a commodity.
If we picture ourselves as shallow coin purses - if we barricade the doors of perception like fearful peasants at the howling of boreal wolves - if we never pay attention- how will we recognise the approach and advent of those precious moments, those openings?
We need a model of cognition that emphasises the magic of reciprocity: - to give attention is to receive attention, as if the universe in some mysterious way responds to our cognition with an influx of effortless grace. If we convinced ourselves that attentiveness follows a rule of synergy rather than a law of depletion, we might begin to overcome in ourselves the banal mundanity of quotidian inattention, and open ourselves to higher states.
In any case, the fact remains that unless we learn to cultivate such states, travel will never amount to more than tourism. And for those of us who are not already adepts at the Zen of travel, the cultivation of these states does indeed demand an initial expenditure of energy. We have inhibitions to repress, hesitations to conquer, habits of introversion or bookishness to break, anxieties to sublimate. Our third rate stay-at-home consciousness seems safe and cozy compared to the dangers and discomforts of the Road with its eternal novelty, its constant demands on our attention. Fear of freedom poisons our unconscious, despite our conscious desire for freedom in travel. The art we're seeking seldom occurs as a natural talent. It must be cultivated practised perfected. We must summon up the will for intentional travel.
It's a truism to complain that difference is disappearing from the world - and it's true, too. But it's sometimes amazing to discover how resilient and organic the different can be. Even in America, land of Malls and tv's, regional differences not only survive but mutate and thrive in the interstices, in the cracks that criss-cross the monolith, beneath the notice of the Media Gaze, invisible even to the local bourgeoisie. If all the world is becoming one-dimensional, we need to look between the dimensions.
I think of travel as fractal in nature. It takes place off the map's text, outside the official Consensus, like those hidden and embedded patterns that nestle within the infinite bifurcations of non-linear equations in the strange world of chaos mathematics. In truth the world has not been completely mapped, because people and their everyday lives have been excluded from the map, or treated as faceless statistics, or forgotten. In the fractal dimensions of unofficial reality all human beings - and even a great many places- remain unique and different. Pure and Unspoiled? Maybe not. Maybe nobody and nowhere was ever really pure. Purity is a will-o-wisp, and perhaps even a dangerous form of totalitarianism. Life is gloriously impure. Life drifts.
In the 1950's the French Situationists developed a technique for travel which they called the derive, the drift.They were disgusted with themselves for never leaving the usual ruts and pathways of their habit-driven lives; they realised they'd never even seen Paris. They began to carry out structureless random expeditions through the city, hiking or sauntering by day, drinking by night, opening up their own tight little world into a terra incognita of slums, suburbs, gardens, and adventures. They became revolutionary versions of Baudelaire's famous flaneur, the idle stroller, the displaced subject of urban capitalism. Their aimless wandering became insurrectionary praxis.
And now, something remains possible - aimless wandering, the sacred drift. Travel cannot be confined to the permissable (and deadening) gaze of the tourist, for whom the whole world is inert, a lump of picturesqueness, waiting to be consumed - because the whole question of permission is an illusion. We can issue our own travel permits. We can allow ourselves to participate, to experience the world as a living relation not as a themepark. We carry within ourselves the hearts of travelers, and we don't need any experts to define and limit our more than fractal complexities, to interpret for us, to guide us, to mediate our experience for us, to sell us back the images of our desires.
The sacred drift is born again. Keep it secret.
To what extent is individual life, which runs parallel with the great stream of history, in fact within that stream? The most startling fact about every individual life is that a third of it is passed entirely outside of history and even outside of space and time, so far as subjective experience is concerned: a third of our life is passed in sleep, in which we are neither in space nor in time, from an internal point of view. Nor are we in history; we just pass out of the world of history into a state of temporary non-being. It is a state which is absolutely essential to us because in it we take refuge from our hideous egotistic activities in order to regain a certain amount of the health and sanity which are always undermined by our conscious activities.
This is exactly what sleep is-- the extraordinary accession of new life and new insight which come in during those eight hours out of twenty-four when we can escape ourselves. Even the most violent fanatic or the most deliquent gangster is, for a third of his life, in this moment of complete unconsciousness when he can forget his ego, in some way reconciled with the deep, divine source of all being. It is a beautiful thought that even a Hitler, even a Himmler, even a Ghenghis Khan, even a Jay Gould, even a Richelieu can forget for a moment his fearful daytime preoccupations.
A very interesting fact, when we come to social organizations, is the discovery that they never sleep. Social organizations live, so to speak, in a state of chronic insomnia; they never depart from themselves nor open themselves up to new accessions of life and insight. They are corrected from time to time only by individuals- who do get the benefit of sleep and therefore can reform social organizations in a rational way. As Mr. Brumble said, ìthe law is an assî- the reason is that the law never sleeps. The Church suffers similarly. There was a hymn which I used to sing very frequently at school, one of whose verses goes,
We thank Thee that Thy Church unsleeping,
While earth moves onward into Light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.
This watchful sleeplessness may account for the deplorable facts of ecclesiastical history... it suffers from the defects of all organizations inasmuch as, not being an organism but merely an organization, it does not have the capacity to retreat and take holidays from itself; it never sleeps and cannot recuperate.
To come back to the individual and the extent to which he is in history, we find that there are a great many periods in his life besides those spent in sleep when he is out of history. These include infancy and most of childhood. During those periods he is living an almost wholly private life in which public affairs have very little influence at all. The same is true of old age and decrepitude, and periods of sickness, too; here the individual is so much diminished that he falls out of public life altogether, and because of his narrowed attention and the chronic pain and frustration, he lives quite out of all relationship with the public world. Finally, the most private and non-historical act of all is the act of death, in which there is a narrowing down of attention until the individual is taken totally out of the world of history.
When we add up all the periods during which we are out of history- the period of sleep, the period of infancy, the period of extreme old age and decrepitude, and the period of sickness- we find that out of the average seventy-year life span the individual probably spends about forty years completely outside of history. He just isnít there at all in relation to the grand historical generalizations which sociologists and historians make.
Even as a mature and self-conscious being, however, the individual spends a great deal of time in a life which is purely private and not historical.... Such facts are of enormous significance. They show that even this small-scale, short-range, catastrophic history, which goes on all the time in its violent and brutal way, and which, as Toynbee says, occupies ìthe headlines of our newspapers and the foregrounds of our mindsî, does not very much engage us. Although at certain moments we may be painfully involved, for the most part we can continue to live our intensely private lives.
This was certainly the experience of a great many people during the catastrophes of recent years, although a very important point which has to be stressed is that in contemporary times the government authorities have gone out of their way to prevent peopleís escaping into their private lives during moments of crisis. It would be very difficult now for a Maine de Brian or a Jane Austen to live quite so completely apart from the historical moment, largely because wars and revolutions involve entire populations rather than small bodies of professional fighting men.
Nevertheless the difference between private life and public life, between biography and history, still remains a very strong one. We see clearly in the nature of our newspapers the fact that most people are not much interested in the public life of their times. Most of the space in newspapers is given up to the more sensational events of private life, such as murders, and a relatively small amount is given to the consideration of great historical events of our time.
One of the best ways of looking at the divorce between private and public life is to consider the idea and the fact of progress. To what extent is it a fact of our subjective life?... There are many reasons that we donít experience progress as much as we might expect that we should. Man has an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. When something new comes in, it is rather astonishing for a day or two, and then it is accepted as part of the order of things. What today is a golden ceiling overhead becomes- when we make the climb and get to it- a disregarded floor under our feet. Then, too, we must remember that every child is born into the world as it exists at that moment and has no experience of the world as it was before. To a child born into the world at the present time, TV and jet planes are a part of the order of things. He has no idea of the sort of world in which I was brought up, which was a world of horses and trains, although these curious (to him) neolithic survivals still exist. This is another reason why it is as exceedingly difficult for us to experience progress subjectively as it is to experience other aspects of public and historical life: most of us are concerned only with the facts of our private lives, with family relationships, with squabbles, with jealousies, with pity for the people around us, with envy, with sex, with gossip. We are involved only in the life of the molecule, not in the life of the gas.
As Dr. Johnson says, ìpublic affairs vex no man and the news of a lost battle never caused any man to eat his dinner the worseî. Conversely, the news of a scientific breakthrough or some immense discovery never makes any man eat his dinner the better.
This state of amphibiousness between society and the individual, between history and biography, is an odd and uneasy kind of existence. But we have to accept it, and in any process of education we have to prepare young people to live in both worlds- to live as best they can in their individual world and, if possible, to take an intelligent interest in the historical one. They probably can never feel the historical world subjectively as they should-- or perhaps they shouldnít; I think it is a great blessing that we donít feel it subjectively most of the time. Anyhow, they should be aware of it intellectually and objectively, so as to be able to be useful citizens. For this is always the problem of human beings- to realize amphibiousness and to know tht they must make the best of this world and of that.
Isnít it time we attacked the biggest, meanest, most tyrannical oppressor of all? The presidential campaign danced around the issues of Iraq, healthcare, social security, and unemployment. But no one addressed the ìsingle greatest source of miseryî (Hakim Bey) in our lives: Work. Everyone talks about unemployment but what about employment? What about the degradation? What about the invasions of privacy? What about the long hours? What about the power hierarchies? What about the monotony?
In France they are moving to 35 hour workweeks while by all media accounts Americans are working harder and longer for less pay. No wonder the French sneer at us. Politicians always talk about jobs in a positive sense- skirting the truth that we all know: most jobs suck! Who in their right mind would work a job, for example, if they were financially independent? Whatís the first thing people fantasize doing if they win the lottery: ìtake this job and shove it!î. Most jobs suck and thatís true of service jobs, office jobs, white collar jobs, executive jobs, manufacturing jobs, and manual labor jobs. In the end you are always doing someone elseís work-- always at the end of someone elseís leash. We all know this but its the great taboo- the Elephant in the living room that no one dare point to.
More than we need a political insurrection we need a work insurrection. Bypass the middle man and take it straight to the corporations. This can take many forms. Traditional unionism is one strategy, though a rapidly deteriorating one. Most unions suffer from Democrat-disease-- their leadership is bloated, fat, corrupt, and lazy... and in bed with the billionaires.
But fear not, there are many anti-work strategies available to the would be hobopoet. The first, best strategy is to radically simplify every aspect of life. Live cheaper. Jettison cumbersome possessions. Pay cash for reliable used cars or have no car at all. Cut up credit cards. Wear cheap, practical clothing. For the more radical this can go as far as moving into a van. Iíve done it and if done properly it can be quite comfortable (also see Stefanís posts re: living in a re-fit ambulance). Eliminating rent and utilities goes a long way towards establishing a high level of financial freedom. Another option, which Iím currently employing, is to move to a country that has a much cheaper cost of living.
Simplifying oneís life is really the core strategy for freedom, as the less you need a job, the less hold the boss has over you. Of course, you may still have to work... at least part time or seasonally- so how to limit the damage to your psyche? A general principle is to always seek the most pay for the least work with the most autonomy. Learn to interview well. If you gotta be a slave part-time, might as well make as much as possible.
Once you land a job, never buy into the company line. Never forget that they are the enemy... the ìprecise target of our rebellious wrathî. Do the least amount of work possible while still keeping an income. Come in as late as you can get away with. Leave as early as you can get away with. Seek out other slackers and malcontents. Cover for each other. Help each other dodge work. Never squeal. Iíve always sought jobs that allow me a good amount of personal time on the job. For example, I was a security guard at a nursing home for many years. I was ìworkingî but my eight hours was mostly spent reading, writing, and watching movies on the big screen TV. Not bad as jobs go. I also helped myself to plenty of free food in the kitchen and thus saved a lot of money on food.
For those with angry anarchist temperments, on-job sabotage is another option. This can be garden variety vandalism of the Fight Club variety.... or pranks.... or seemingly innocent mistakes that cost the company time and money. I ìaccidentlyî deleted a database while working as an office slave at IBM, for example. I also milked them for tons of money while doing almost no work. For more ideas, do a google search for the ìALFî or ìAnimal Liberation Frontî- theyíve got some general purpose anarchist suggestions.
Donít underestimate the power of these sorts of actions... labor history is full of effective ìwork to ruleî, ìsit downî, and ìwork slowdownî campaigns. These are often more effective than a strike-- you continue to make money and fill a position but the company suffers. If you have a number of pissed off compadres, organize your efforts... always doing just enough not to get fired but making as many mistakes and working as slowly as you possibly can get away with.
If you work in a place that is commiting blatantly illegal or immoral acts-- try to document the abuses. Copy files. Take notes. Take photos. Tape record conversations. Then leak the info (and copies) to newspapers, government agencies, and the companyís competitors (anonymously is the smart way to go). Or use it as blackmail. Keep detailed logs of anything that could be construed as sexual harassment- then threaten to go to a lawyer (or actually go to one).
Your primary goal in all of this (other than revenge), is the very practical goal of turning the tables on bosses. You want them to be afraid of you. You want them to be intimidated by you. That way, they bother you less and you do less work. Another practical goal when you must make money is to always be job searching. Keep responding to ads. Keep sending out applications and resumes even while working-- that way youíve always got other options should the boss fire you or should you wish to make a stand.
Finally, the best solution to income generation is to become a FT or PT freelancer. As a freelancer you have no bosses, only clients- who you can accept or reject as you see fit. As a freelancer you set your own schedule, your own priorities,.... you finally start working for yourself instead of doing other peopleís work. My advice is to start small. I write freelance articles and sell them. I also teach English freelance. When I need or want a bigger income, I look for a job as an English teacher. However, because my living expenses are so low and because I have a small freelance income- I in no way feel bound by my jobs. I can afford to be picky about which ones I choose and have no qualms about leaving immediately when my mercenary purposes are met.
Combined together, the techniques of simplifying, slacking, sabotaging, boss intimidation, and freelancing produce a powerful synergistic effect: an intoxicating feeling of greater autonomy and freedom. None of us particularly want to work: but when you have to its best to stack the cards in your favor.